Category: Guest Articles
By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-09-22
He could almost hear his late father say “there’s nothing on the telly!”, mimicking some long gone radio presenter. So right, whoever it had been. D switched off the TV and threw the remote at the wall, missing the framed photograph of his disapproving parents peering down at him. A snort of disgust blew through his untrimmed nostrils and the room plunged into a post-entertainment gloom.
He climbed the narrow stairs carefully, not letting the arthritis get the better of him. In bed, he tried to weigh up his options now that he had been out of work for a few months. Despite having the word “communication” in his job title, he could not communicate, at least not in the way his employers wanted. They had no quarrel with the technical excellence of his labour but the distance he seemed to put between himself and his colleagues, his managers and the customers meant that he was unlikely to survive an appraisal system that placed more importance on bland personalities and blind obedience to bizarre work targets than in actual performance.
When they told him that he was surplus to requirements, he stole from the bank accounts of the board of directors. This was a pragmatic move in his way of thinking. Vengeance had been exacted against an employer that had never understood him, never tried to understand him. Also, as the Welfare State had been dismantled a few years ago, he really did need the money.
He was bored of a life of emails, liking, sharing, live chats, help desks, activation codes, usernames and passwords. Spam mail was the highpoint of his day. He had created an online fake identity and gently berated officialdom in this guise. Thoughts of bitterness and rebellion churned his mind. Listening through earphones to an early rock and roll album, Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories , he fell asleep.
He woke in the middle of the night with a start. An idea had taken hold of him, a method of registering his contempt for a self-satisfied, self-congratulatory world and providing his own home entertainment. He chuckled, went into the garden, and, by torchlight, unlocked the many padlocks that secured the large metal, single storey structure that abutted the house next door. This had originally been a storage container and the legend Findus Crispy Pancakes was still visible on its side though faded now and invaded by ivy. He turned on the lights and surveyed his workshop. All seemed in order and he swung carelessly on his chair, dreaming.
D spent several weeks perfecting his technique, making adjustments to computer programmes and hacking into the production departments of those broadcasting companies that interested him the most. His equipment was linked to a 25 metre high antenna camouflaged among a group of plane trees that shielded the building from curious gazes.
One damp autumn Sunday early evening, he was ready in his lair, tuning in to his target, a particularly decadent antiques TV programme. His software scanned the fawning over antiquities, and each time the word “worth” came up, it inserted the word “nothing” as a replacement to whatever immediately followed. He giggled, happy that the slowed-down, anonymous voiceover had succeeded, at least in the local transmitting region. It was pure comedy, observing so-called experts smugly pronouncing on the various items that members of the public had brought hopefully to the location and the delighted response by them to the revelation that their treasures were in fact worthless. The show was taken off air when the remix was noticed and D shut down his apparatus to minimise the chance of being detected. He allowed himself a little dance of celebration, then sat down, embarrassed by his unusual display of emotion.
The following day he bumped into his neighbour whilst retrieving his wheelie bins. Ilyich was upset as the police had called that morning and had searched his house on some unspecified security matter. He ran a small business from his home, dealing with communication solutions. D was even more convinced that the authorities were clueless. An apology was issued by the producers of the show, explaining the incident away as a technical hitch and there were numerous complaints from outraged viewers. In a news report, the head of the Security Service described the “nothing incident” as a cyber attack, an assault on the right of the ordinary citizen to enjoy without interruption a “national treasure lovingly crafted by the greatest television industry in the world”. The game was on.
D laid low for a few weeks, studying, mixing audio tapes and boosting his mast. He decided that he would next activate his “studio” for a late night screening of the vintage movie First Blood on the lesser known Testosterone network. He managed to replace the vocal of the character Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) by overdubbing it with excerpts from the opera songs O Sole Mio and Lolita, Serenata Spagnola in the scene in which he enters the command tent set up in the search for his former soldier, the fugitive John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). The dialogue of the sadistic Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) in this exchange was altered to a touching admission, in a shrill voice, of his undying romantic love for his quarry though the face and body language spoke of revenge, hunting dogs and hatred of outsiders . This was a more ambitious act of civil disobedience and usurpation and D felt that he had actually improved one of his favourite films with his slick, competent and imaginative editing. There was little feedback to this intervention due to the lateness of the hour and the irrelevance of the film. However, some enthusiasts had noticed and an online cult emerged, seeking to unearth similar occurrences by trawling back through thousands of hours of films, good and bad.
Over the coming months he paid close attention to the domestic political scene, especially the vocal styles of the Cabinet members. When the tragic story broke of fourteen slaves dying in a fire at their accommodation, he sensed his chance. He would expect from the Home Affairs Minister, Ms Serena Todd, a suitably solemn, studied response to include a rejection of the growing practice of slavery, a commitment from the Government to stamp it out again. But when her statement was repeated in a later bulletin, he had inserted the sentence “of course, we don’t care about the lower orders..I would love to have slaves working on my estate..” The broadcast was cut almost as soon as it began but it was too late. Even though it was apparent that she had little control over the hijacking of her interview, she had been made to look silly and, in some people’s view, honest. Todd resigned that night. Riots had broken out in six major cities, many districts were ablaze and a mob had cornered the family thought to be the owners of the dead slaves in a secluded part of the Eastern sector, lynching them from their own apple trees.
D sat back, wide-eyed at what he had unleashed, taking in the breaking news bulletins on a bank of monitors. He opened a bottle of champagne and raised his glass to the assembled TVs which at that moment switched to a Security Service spokeswoman announcing that they were close to making an arrest on charges of terrorism, inciting insurrection and theft of intellectual property. D froze, spilling his drink when there was a loud banging at the door and Tech Police forced their battering ram into his shed, his world. As the handcuffs shut, he went into a kind of fit, curling into a tight ball, speaking in tongues with guns pointing at him and the cameras rolling.
Saturday Night Special
By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-09-02
Jimmy Jangles prepared as he always did one late Saturday night to watch his favourite TV sport programme, Melee of The Day. He seemed to have watched this every week of his life as far as he could remember. His father had also been a fan though the format had apparently been somewhat different in those days. The broadcast was preceded by a news bulletin which ended with the advice that those not wishing to know the results of MOTD should leave the room. He duly acquiesced to this tiny bit of theatre and stood at the open kitchen window, feeling the slight breeze on his face and listening to cats wailing. There was no one in the street as many people were doing exactly the same as him.
He was summoned to his viewing chair by the cheerful, bouncy, electronic theme near-tune and sat down with one hand gently caressing the remote, the other gripping a glass of gin and tonic. A grab bag of caviar flavour crisps lay on the low table between him and the 110 inch TV that provided the only illumination in that room and that was in essence the room.
The presenter, Johnny Bland, beamed his smile, introduced the two pundits, Oliver Overbite and Alan Contemptible, and commented briefly on the events to be shown, claiming, with the right amount of gravitas in danger of being ruined by mirth, that it had been a very busy Saturday with some memorable action and debatable points.
They began as usual with the most spectacular event. Highlights were shown of a bomb attack on a northern discount shopping centre that had left 63 people dead and over 150 injured. The huge array of CCTV cameras available and the inclusion of smart phone and dash and helmet cam filming meant that most of the hostility was available to be viewed by paying customers. Contemptible was very impressed that the bombers had planted a second device in the narrow road that led to the shops, timed to go off as the first injured were being helped onto a convoy of ambulances. Vivid depiction of bodies being extricated from burning vehicles was repeated for purposes of analysis, being frozen when certain points were felt necessary to make. Jimmy was treated to the awful spectacle of distraught paramedics treating their colleagues and the long line of blazing, blooded ambulances framed in a sepulchral drizzle. Overbite felt that the follow up detonation was “unsportsmanlike”and fell foul of the much misunderstood offside rule, predicting that these terrorists would endure a wretched season as a result of the type of tactics employed in this cunning ambush. Contemptible disagreed, saying that attackers should always given the benefit of the doubt in such cases and a heated argument followed that ended when Bland, a slightly faded national hero, acted as referee, the screen filled by his face as he moved ironically but seamlessly on to the next encounter.
This turned out to be an entirely different kind of beast. This time Jimmy watched a distressed man dressed in an all purple outfit run amok in a bookies with a bread knife and a deodorant aerosol can. This was especially visceral entertainment replayed in grainy images of disembowelment and blinding with a background of banks of TV sets relaying live pictures of the new horse racing, a cross between the Grand National, the Charge of The Light Brigade and medieval jousting. The assailant was overcome by the surviving gamblers and passers by and was lifeless by the time the police armoured personnel carriers and the helicorpsecopters arrived. A small crowd had gathered across the road to watch, careful not to stand too close to one another in case of further danger.
Jimmy at one point thought that he recognised one of the victims as his cousin Eric who had recently moved to the midlands to find work as a forklift driver at a body armour warehouse. If he remembered, he would try to ring his aunt the following day or, failing that, replay that part of the show and zoom in for identification purposes.
There was a rather muted discussion of this crime in the studio, partly because of the personal nature of the offence, partly because the transgressor’s face was visible and therefore known to some extent. The three experienced former sportsmen were visibly uncomfortable. The terms and conditions of their healthy contracts prevented them from reminiscing on how things had been in the time of football before escalating aggression, both on and off the pitch, and the increasing susceptibility of large crowds to terrible devastation had led to the abandonment of conventional sporting events and venues.
No one was really sure how the civil war had started or even who was involved. Jimmy seemed to recall some social media spat getting out of hand and then people coming out from behind their computers when the country was broken up into different parts. But he thought that he could have been wrong especially as the combination of painkillers and alcohol was now making him confuse erotic with erratic and love with loathe . He had been this way since he had lost his job in a photographic equipment factory when it had gone onto short time working due to the necessity to observe two minutes silence in remembrance of the latest deaths for much of the working day.
The last featured atrocity was an assault on shoppers at a vast second hand car sales centre by a man driving a white van. He drove at speed along the lanes between the rows of cars and began to hunt other motorists, ploughing into them, throwing many into the air. He finally drove out wildly onto the nearby motorway where both he and his vehicle were obliterated by a cement lorry that he’d failed to see in his wing mirror.
Contemptible stood up and tried to analyse this event by rather hamfistedly operating an interactive screen to illustrate this latest act of terror. He allowed himself a whistle of admiration when he played back the scene that showed this particular murderer actually buying the van at the site of the carnage immediately before unleashing his killing spree. On the other hand, he felt that the reversing of the van over a number of prone victims was, well, contemptible. Much of the footage of this massacre came from the belt buckle cams of those present including the casualties and, equally harrowing, the dash and rear cams of the van.
The Bomb of The Month competition was mentioned and the merits of the ten entries considered. Jimmy thought that No.7, the petrol bombing of a petrol station that was about to close down on a forsaken part of the east coast, won his vote. He was at heart an old romantic and art lover who appreciated the bold colours of towering flames against a black sea sky and the fact that, in his view, these were activists protesting against the end of their community. He was especially drawn to the compelling, high camera views of the mob carrying their Molotov cocktails, advancing wordlessly across the forecourt towards the kiosk like something out of the Peasants’ Revolt or Children of The Damned.
Bland ended the transmission on an upbeat note, thanking his co-presenters and all those people who had allowed permission for the show’s producers, the New Blood Sport Broadcasting Corporation, to use their films of the violence. With a wink, he let the audience know of a new companion for MOTD that would be aired in mid week, Celebrity Melee of The Day and, as ever, he repeated the lie that what he had just presented to the nation were merely isolated incidents.
Jimmy muted the set and gulped down another G and T, washing down sleeping pills that he knew would not do the job tonight.